Chapter 5, in which Morozov discusses the Spinternet – a term he coined to describe governments’ use of the Internet for propaganda purposes. Examples he uses are China’s practice of paying citizens to make pro-government comments on blogs; Russia’s army of young bloggers tied to the Kremlin, and Hugo Chavez’s effective use of Twitter (after formerly opposing it as a tool of terrorism).
Morozov claims that, contrary to the cyber-utopian belief that the Internet will make people less susceptible to political propaganda, the ease of communications and lack of savvy by many online consumers has made propagandists’ jobs much easier. He also points out that every regime has its supporters, and that they’re often the most effective tools for ensuring government control over ideas. He also adds the incontrovertible point that rumors, gossip, and hoaxes proliferate online despite all efforts to the contrary.
Questions for discussion:
1) It’s notable that dictators are using tools such as public relations and “astroturfing” that were invented in the West, for both corporations and politics. What, if anything, does this fact imply about the general health of discourse in democracies?
2) Morozov claims there’s an “inherent tension between fighting propaganda and keeping the Internet anonymous.” Similarly, Facebook’s marketing director Randi Zuckerberg has claimed that online anonymity “has got to go away” in order to curb online bullying. Do the negatives of online anonymity indeed outweigh the positives? What would a non-anonymous Internet mean for public discourse and dissent in various countries?
3) Morozov concludes this chapter by saying “Although the proliferation of spin is a natural feature of the modern Internet, it may still be possible to outspin the spinners.” Although his choice of words here is worryingly ironic, his point about media literacy and critical thinking is valid. How can NGOs and Western governments do a better job of decreasing the effectiveness of spin doctors, astroturfers, and trolls on the take?
Chapter 1 – The Google Doctrine
Chapter 2 – Texting Like It’s 1989
Chapter 3 – Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat
Chapter 4 – Censors and Sensibilities
Chapter 5 – Hugo Chavez Would Like to Welcome You to the Spinternet
Chapter 6 – Why the KGB Wants You to Join Facebook
Chapter 7 – Why Kierkegaard Hates Slacktivism
Chapter 8 – Open Networks, Narrow Minds
Chapter 9 – Internet Freedoms and Their Consequences
Chapter 10 – Making History (More Than a Browser Menu)
Chapter 11 – The Wicked Fix